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Legal Duties at a Scene

Your legal duties at an accident scene

Stopping And Reporting

Having been in an accident you need to:
  • Immediately stop your vehicle;
  • Ascertain the nature and extent of any injury sustained by any person;
  • If a person is injured, render whatever assistance that you are capable of;
  • Ascertain the nature and extent of the damage sustained;
  • Give your name and address to any person who has reasonable grounds for requiring them, the name and address of the vehicle’s owner if it is not your own and the vehicle’s registration number.
  • Report the collision at a police station or at an authorised office of a traffic officer within 24 hours, with your driving licence.
  • Not take any intoxicating liquor or drug having a narcotic effect unless, in the case of injury or shock, it is administered on the instructions of, or by, a medical practitioner.
  • It is an offence not to report an accident in which another person’s property has been damaged, or in which another person is injured, even if neither of the drivers intends taking legal action.

Clearing The Road

  • Once the injured have been assisted the drivers can attend to damaged vehicles
  • When someone has been killed or injured in an accident in an urban area it is an offence to remove any of the vehicles involved from the positions in which they came to rest, except in the following circumstances:
  • Where removal has been authorised by a traffic or police officer; and
  • If the vehicle is causing ‘complete obstruction of the roadway of a public road’. Even when a vehicle is causing complete obstruction, it may be moved only sufficiently to allow the traffic to pass, and then only after the person moving it has clearly marked its position on the surface of the road.
  • If a vehicle must be moved before the police arrive, first mark its position with chalk or crayon, indicating the corners of the car and the position of its wheels. Ask the driver or an independent third party to confirm in writing the accuracy of the marks that you have drawn.
  • If you are the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident, remember that it is in your interest to wait until the police arrive, even if you consider yourself to be in the right

Insurance

  • You are not obliged to reveal to anyone the name of your ‘comprehensive’ insurer, or even whether your vehicle is comprehensively insured or not – although this is usually done when both parties are comprehensively insured.
  • Inform your insurer or broker as soon as you are involved in an accident, first by telephone, fax or telegram and then by written notice sent by registered mail.
  • Keep a copy of this letter of confirmation and all later correspondence. At this stage there is no need to submit a fully detailed account of the accident.
  • If you are unable to report to the insurer in person because of injury, ask a friend or relative to do this for you.
  • After receiving your report, the insurer will send you a claim form to fill in or ask you to call at its office to describe the accident to a loss investigator or assessor.

Making Statements

  • The less said at the scene of an accident, the better.
  • Standard motor-insurance policies usually prohibits any ‘admission, offer, promise, payment or indemnity’ being made by, or on behalf of, the insured motorist. A breach of this term may invalidate the policy.
  • Never offer money to any person who is injured or who has suffered damage to property. If a motorist, for instance, collides with a cyclist, and pays for the repairs to the bicycle, it could easily be interpreted as an admission of guilt.
  • Anyone who admits liability, or even appears to do so, could be taking on an obligation without realising its consequences.
  • If you have been involved in an accident you are under no obligation to make a statement to the police or to anybody else involved or present at the scene.
  • You would be entirely within your rights to refuse to discuss an accident with a police officer.
  • If you agree to make a statement to the police, you may write it down yourself, using your own words to give an accurate account of what happened

Collecting and Recording Evidence

If you have been involved in an accident try to record immediately after the event the salient points on which your claim for compensation or your defence may depend. Important information includes:
  • Names and Addresses -Note carefully the names and addresses of other people involved in the accident. Check the registration number given with the number on the registration plates and licence disc.
  • Write down the registration numbers of cars at the scene of the accident if it seems that their occupants might be useful witnesses.
  • Compile a list of all potential witnesses and decide who are most likely to be useful afterwards.
  • Traffic – Note the flow of the traffic at the time of the accident – whether the road was busy, and whether vehicles were moving fast or slowly.
  • Weather conditions and road surface
  • Vehicle damage – Note carefully damage which seems to have been caused by the accident.
  • Photographs – take photographs if possible
  • Sketch a plan of the accident indicating directions of travel, skid marks, resting points, point of impact etc

Photographs At The Scene

What should you photograph at an accident scene?
  • When we photograph accidents, we are interested in evidence and relevance – not blood and guts.
  • The goal of an accident investigation should normally be to bring the scene to court.
If it is possible to take 36 photographs, Arrive Alive.co.za suggests the following:
  • Up to 4 Images: Set the stage. Take photographs from at least four positions that will allow you to include all cars, marks, positions and relationships.
  • Up to 4 Images: Cover the angles. Assuming there is intersections involved take photographs to show where all the vehicles were coming from, and what the relevant drivers would or could have seen. Remember, there might be stop streets, yield signs and/or traffic involved.
  • Up to 15 Images: Damage. Start by photographing each vehicle from the four corners in such a way that the whole vehicle is visible in the shot. This way, you are including two sides of the vehicle in a single photograph. Depending on how many vehicles you need to photograph and how many exposures you have available, you can also photographs all four sides of all vehicles squarely, showing the whole side in each photograph. Remember that you are trying to record the evidence and not the damage. Also include the areas or sides where there is no damage. Also try to ensure that the photographs clearly show number plates on vehicles.
  • Up to 4 Images: Marks and Debris If there are skid marks, scuff marks, gouge marks (damaged tarmac) or even just pieces of a vehicle lying around, photograph them. Skidmarks are or could be very important. Photograph them in a way that shows the side from which they started, in the direction the vehicle skidded. This established the driver contribution to prevention. Be sure to photograph this in such a way that the vehicle is visible in the shot as well, so that the casual observer can see that the marks “lead up to” the vehicle in question
  • Up to 4 Images: Positions of bodies As long as bodies are covered and you do not photograph faces or enter into crime scenes without permission, the ideal would be to photograph the final resting positions of any victims or bodies that were struck or that fell out of vehicles. Remember to photograph in a way that will show the relative positions and orientation in relation to the scene as a whole.
  • Up to 4 Images: Safety Systems. Photograph the front interiors of all vehicles. You should be able to show that airbags were fitted or not, that they deployed or not and whether they are full of blood or not. Photograph in such a way that you can also show seat-belts, where it is obvious that they were worn.
Other details:
  • If you have any exposures left, or if you have a digital camera, you can also photograph license disks. Do this from close enough to clearly and legibly show all text on them, including vehicle details, expiry dates, etc.
  • You can also photograph flat, damaged, smooth, cut or broken tyres and wheels.
  • Don’t forget that it is also possible to photograph wind-shields (for head impacts), seat positions (where drivers ran away), damage to road ornaments (poles, barriers, walls,) etc